Bobby Underwood: Multi-genre Author is my Guest – tipping his hat to Pulp Fiction and The Golden Age
Multi-genre author Bobby Underwood is my Guest today. I’m so pleased to feature him. I love his writing.
This is what he has to say about himself – my interview with him begins further down.
Like Robert Ludlum and Raymond Chandler, things didn’t line up for me until my forties, when I began seriously pursuing writing. I have been prolific since embarking on my writing career, steadfast in my belief that a story told well, in any genre, will find a home in the heart of most readers. Because of that belief, I write in many genres, including modern day Mystery and Crime, Romance, Westerns, Science Fiction, and Pulp suspense homages set in the 1940s. My style, and the type of stories I tell, harken back to writers of old. I bring something ethereal to my more romantic pieces, something nostalgic to my stories set in the past, something grittier yet hopeful to my present-day crime and mystery stories, something poignant and human to my stories of science fiction, and finally, something almost tangibly sensual to a series I write which is set in a near-term dystopian Earth.
When I write, it is always my voice readers hear, based on my life experience and observations. But the authors who touched me growing up can be heard in the echoes of my voice, and their literary influence seen lingering in the shadowed archways and darkened corridors at the edges of my pages. I have always attempted to write the kind of stories I would like to read. My hope is that each reader will be touched by something within the pages of my books, while at the same time being entertained. If they are, then I have been able to share a part of my soul with them, creating a connection between author and reader which allows us to know each other a bit better. In the end, that’s really all a writer can ask.
I found this really interesting, thanks Bobby.
Right now down to business with my interview:
You write in more than one genre, how did this transpire? Did you consciously decide to do this or did it just happen?
That’s a good question. Like Chandler and Ludlum, circumstances didn’t afford me the opportunity to begin my career as a writer until my 40s, and by then I had a wealth of different stories I wanted to tell. Naturally, not all of them fell within the same genre, so I write in many different genres. I’ve always believed that if a story is well-told, no matter whether it falls within their preferred genre or not, readers will find a home for it in their heart. Ed McBain always said that when he sat down to write in a different genre, it was as though a completely different writer took over. I feel the same, and have no difficulty slipping into a different style, mood, cadence, to fit whatever story with which I’m currently in love (a Ray Bradbury reference).
Which is your favourite genre, if you have one and why?
I would have to say mystery, if pinned down, because it really is in everything I write. The Seth Halliday series and the Matt Ransom series most certainly contain mystery elements, but even the Westerns I write have some unknown factor, some mystery that is revealed at some point. In romantic fantasies, such as Beyond Heaven’s Reach, Joy Island, Surfer Girl and City of Angels, there is an element of mystery as to what is actually happening, and what is going to happen once that mystery revealed.
You seemed to be an avid reader of Robert Ludlum – me too – and the ‘Pulp’ fiction of the Golden Era – which I grew up reading – and I think your writing reflects this, having enjoyed several of your books. Do you have a favourite writer or writers, and if so why? I loved Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler when I was growing up. Have your read them?
Yes, I love the great pulp writers. Spillane in fact, never stopped writing pulp, something a lot of folks don’t get. Chandler elevated an entire genre, turning pulp into art in some cases. So many great writers began in the pulps. Woolrich, Gardner, Cain, Hammett and Chandler, all began in the pulps, and some of their best work can be found there. Pulp is not always mystery however, so I can’t neglect to mention Jack Williamson, a legend in Science Fiction, who was one of the few to bridge the gap between the pulp era and the more serious Science Fiction which came later. No one wrote with greater movement within their narratives than Woolrich and Williamson.
Who is the writer you feel has influenced you the most and why?
Wow, there are so many. All of the above names, plus John D. MacDonald, Tony Hillerman, Ross Macdonald, the great Robert Nathan, whose lovely stories of romantic fantasy I still find enthralling, Earl Derr Biggers, M.M. Kaye, and Donald Hamilton, just to name a few.
Did you read any adventures when growing up written by authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Ransome, Enid Blyton, and even Daphne Du Maurier, for example? I’d love to know which books really excited you enough to want to write. So many writers name these are being incredibly influential.
I actually read more mysteries than adventure stories. I absolutely adored those mysteries for young adults written by Phyllis A. Whitney, remembered more today for her soft-gothic romance novels for adults. But she wrote wonderful books of mystery for young adults, teenagers and almost-teenagers. There was a mystery, but always little life lessons, something wonderful a child or young adult could take with them in their heart once the final page was turned. I hadn’t thought about it until you asked, but I would have to say that Phyllis A. Whitney mysteries, and the ethereal romantic fantasies of Robert Nathan, were definitely the most influential to me as a young person. Later, as an adult, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series, Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series, and Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series had a great influence on me.
Goodness me Matt Helm, reminds me of Dean Martin in the movie role.
Have you always wanted to write? Did you write as a child?
Yes, as long as I can remember. Life just didn’t afford me the opportunity until later, so I’m making the most of it.
What are your ambitions if any, as an author?
To be read, to have people enjoy my stories, to have people be touched and entertained by the stories I write. And to be respected by readers and other writers. Fame and fortune, that’s all bunk, and mostly luck. Poe and Emily Dickenson prove that. In our day of the inconsequential being glorified, that’s even truer. Yes, some of the worse stuff out there is self-published books, and it’s ridiculous not to acknowledge that, but there are a lot of big publishing house clunkers too. Some of them are bestsellers! Some of the best stuff being written today is coming from writers working independent of the big publishing houses. The new market has left the large publishing houses scrambling, touting the next “big” thing, in order to survive. I don’t let it distract me from the really good stuff being written.
Have you submitted to publishing houses or agents at all or are you content to self-publish? And if so, why?
I seriously considered it, but after looking at my options, and a very changed landscape in publishing, I chose to go the independent route. I probably could have got on at some point with a smaller print publishing house, but they can only print so many books per year, and I’m far too prolific for that. I am not a cookie-cutter writer, cranking out paint by the numbers best seller material. Nor do I have any pretensions in my writing style(s) that big publishing houses love. My work harkens back to those authors of old that I grew up reading. By choosing to publish independently from the big guys, I can tell the stories I want to tell, being fulfilled creatively. Bradbury said you have to be in love with a story, and I always am. Being independent also allows me to keep my prices in line with the big publishing houses. I would rather be read than rich, and respected by a somewhat smaller but loyal readership, than lauded unduly for something I wasn’t proud to point to as my legacy.
You are incredibly prolific. I am blown away at the number of books you’ve written. Where do you get your ideas? Do they pop into your head or are there outside forces at work, stimulating your imagination? What would typically inspire you?
I have to say that classic films from the 1930s and ‘40s have been a tremendous influence in my work, at least in the type of stories I want to tell. Whatever I write, I try to capture a feeling, an emotion, and sustain that emotion throughout the entire narrative. It’s the same way a director attempts to sustain a mood and ambiance throughout a classic film. Ideas can come from anywhere, but for me, it’s always the overall feeling that’s important.
Do you write every day? For how long?
Like Anne Rice, I write when I feel like it. She said that someone telling her she had to write so many words every day, was one of the worst pieces of advice she ever received. That and this notion that your first draft would always be terrible and need tons of revisions. Asimov said the same thing about this terrible notion. He finally realized that Heinlen, who had told him to get it right the first time, was correct. Asimov wasn’t saying there was anything wrong with revisions if they were needed, but that there also was nothing wrong with getting your story right from the get-go.
I write most of the time, but if I don’t feel like it, I’ll take a short break, until I’m ready to write a story. When I do write, I always try to make sure the chapter I just wrote is as good as I’m likely to get it before moving on. There have been times when I’ll write the ending to a story, or a lovely scene I want to include that’s somewhere in the middle of the narrative, and then work up to it. But I have no set number of hours, or pages, I must meet. Each writer is different, and that rigidity does not work for me at all.
Do you have a routine, a ritual, for writing? Where do you write?
I always write at my desk. It’s how I’ve always written, my routine. I don’t really have any other rituals or routines, though I do tend to have Henry Mancini’s music playing a lot when I’m working. He always puts me in a mood to write. I think that the opening to a story is the most important for me. Once I have that, I’m off to the races, as the saying goes.
Do you write long hand or on a typewriter or computer?
On my Mac, but in my youth, I wrote longhand — computers hadn’t been invented!
Are you a plotter with lots of research, notes and plans – even spreadsheets – or are you like me – sitting in front of a computer screen hoping something comes, though I often have the title and a rough idea of what the story will be, I never know the ending?
I would say that almost everything is in my head, including the plot. Often, because I’ve been fairly prolific, as you noted — though I’ve deliberately slowed my pace this year, for a breather — there are several stories going on at once up there. I do jot down a few notes, usually just some phrases, perhaps some snappy dialog, or the setting for a scene. But it’s only sketchy stuff to remind me, so that I can refer back to it later — in case it’s a while before I get to that particular story. Mostly I keep every story in my head — no doubt safer for the general public at large!
I’m glad I am not alone in having several things bubbling away at the same time.
Have you ever woken in the night with a story running around in your head and had to get up to start writing it? Which story did this happen with?
I honestly can’t say that I have. I’ve always got stories going on up there, 24/7, but if I get up to write at night, which is rare — that’s my reading time — it’s usually only because I can’t sleep, and no longer feel like reading.
Do you forget meals and drinks when writing or do you have a favourite snack and beverage on hand? Tea get me through with supplies of liquorice when I allow myself.
No, if I get hungry, I’ll stop and take a break. I actually don’t like snacking while I’m working, so I wait until I do take a break. I do snack when I’m just mucking around on the computer, but if I’m writing a story, I don’t. Not sure why, I think it’s just because I’m focused on the story.
Do you receive feed-back from your readers and are you active in communicating with fans?
I try to be interactive when I can. Generally feedback is great to get, so it’s usually a big plus. Some time back, I had someone phone me from out of the blue. An older woman, very nice, who was in an assisted living home. Her son had bought The Wild Country and Beyond Heaven’s Reach, and brought them to her to read. When she saw that I lived in her town, she took the time to look up our number, just so she could tell me how wonderful the books had been, and how much she enjoyed them. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often, so it was really special.
Do you use Social Media for publicity? How do you find this – beneficial for the amount of time spent, or a necessary evil which does/doesn’t reap sufficient benefit in relation to effort and time spent and sales garnered?
I use my Facebook author page, and sometimes I’ll boost a post about a promotion, but mostly I use Goodreads. I’m on there a lot anyway, because I read and review, so it’s not like I’m cutting into time I wouldn’t already have been allotting to Goodreads anyway. Even then, I just put my stuff out there and get out of the way. I don’t like to be pushy. It probably hurts me, because I don’t have tons of reviews, or even ratings, but I’m definitely being read. That’s the important thing.
How often do you read? What are you reading at the moment? Do you read during the day or at night in bed?
I read all the time, but mostly at night. I’ve always got two or three books going, so I can read whatever I’m in the mood for. Currently I’m reading Hans Fallada’s Little Man, What Now? M.M. Kaye’s The Sun in the Morning, and Robert B. Parker’s Paper Doll. Far too many people limit their reading world to a single genre. I find most readers are eclectic, however, like me, and can enjoy anything if it’s well written. Because I write everything from pulp homages to modern crime and mystery, romantic fantasy to science fiction, those are my kind of readers!
Who are your favourite authors today and why?
It might not be cool to say, but I honestly don’t read many modern authors. I prefer the older authors, the older writing styles. I do read the Hamish Macbeth series — so does my wife — and there are a few cozy authors I like when I’m in the mood, but I can’t really point to someone writing today that I get excited about.
What are you working on next and when should we expect it to be published? Tell us something about it if you are able.
I’ll probably work on Death in Egypt, a light mystery set in the 1930s. I’m not certain how long it will be, but some of it is already written. Anyone who has read Night Cry, from the Where Lonely Lives collection, will recognize it as the story the protagonist was working on in the narrative. Sections of it were included in Night Cry, but now I’m going to finish it. It’s kind of a unique thing, because it was a story within a story in Night Cry, and now that actual story, in its entirety, will come to fruition through me. It should be great fun, with a 1930s flavor. I hope people enjoy it.
Tell us about your latest publication:
My latest release is titled I Died Twice, and is both a homage to all those wonderful soft-noir film melodramas of the 1940s, and the finer pulp stories from the same era. The title for each short but involving chapter is in fact taken from a classic film. A young woman whose only family is the orphanage in which she grew up, must finally depart her aunts and all her friends to make her way in the world. Traveling by train to Palm Beach, Florida to begin her first job, she meets a young man and falls in love. The innocent and inexperienced Anne Ferguson quickly finds herself drawn into a web of love, wealth, and finally, murder. Emotional and atmospheric, the swiftly moving narrative will have readers wishing they could help the adorable Anne, and warn her of the danger just ahead. Filled with memorable supporting characters, imbued with warmth, and punctuated by a terrific ending reminiscent of those great film melodramas of the 1940s, I Died Twice is a rewarding tale of romantic suspense!
Bobby many thanks for being here and chatting with us about your writing. It’s been so very interesting.
I do hope those who pop over to read about you will leave comments for you to answer; always great fun I find. Wishing you much future success.